Christopher Columbus: Extracts from Journal, October 10 1492

Wednesday, 10 October 1492. Steered west-southwest and sailed at times ten miles an hour, at others twelve, and at others, seven; day and night made fifty-nine leagues’ progress; reckoned to the crew but forty-four. Here the men lost all patience, and complained of the length of the voyage, but the Admiral encouraged them in the best manner he could, representing the profits they were about to acquire, and adding that it was to no purpose to complain, having come so far, they had nothing to do but continue on to the Indies, till with the help of our Lord, they should arrive there.

Thursday 11 October

He sailed WSW. They had a rough sea, rougher than any they had had throughout the voyage. They spotted some petrels and a green reed near the flagship. The crew of the caravel Pinta spotted a cane and a twig and they fished out another piece of stick, carved with iron by the looks of it, and a piece of cane and other vegetation that grows on land, and a small plank. The crew of the caravel Niña also saw signs of land and a branch covered in barnacles. At these signs they breathed again and all took heart. They sailed 27 leagues today, until sunset. After sunset he set his former course due W. They were making about twelve miles an hour and until two in the morning they made about 90 miles, that is 22 leagues and a half. And because the caravel Pinta was faster and sailed ahead of the Admiral, she sighted land and gave the signals that the Admiral had commanded. The first man to see this land was a sailor by the name of Rodrigo de Triana,29 although the Admiral had seen a light at ten in the evening on the poop deck, but it was so indistinct that he would not swear that it was land.30 But he called Pero Gutiérrez, Hisis Majesty’s chamberlain, told him that it seemed to be a light and asked him to look, which he did, and he did see it. He also called Rodrigo Sánchez de Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent as comptroller, and he saw nothing as he was not in a position from which he could see it. After the Admiral had spoken, the light was spotted a couple of times, and it was like a small wax candle being raised and lowered, which struck very few people as being a sign of land, but the Admiral was certain that he was near land. So when they had said the Salve, which all sailors are accustomed to say or chant in their own way, and they were all gathered together, the Admiral urged them to keep a good lookout from the forecastle and watch for land, saying that he would give the first man to tell him that he could see land a silk doublet, quite apart from the other rewards which the King and Queen had promised, such as the annual payment of ten thousand maravedís to the first man to see land.

Two hours after midnight land appeared at a distance of about two leagues. They shortened all sail, kept the mainsail without the bonnets and lay to, waiting for Friday to dawn, the day on which they finally reached a small island of the Lucayos which was called in the language of the Indians Guanahaní.31 Then they saw some naked people and the Admiral went ashore in the armed boat with Martín Alonso Pinzón and Vicente Yáñez, his brother, who was the captain of the Niña. The Admiral brought out the royal standard, and the captains unfurled two banners of the green cross, which the Admiral flew as his standard on all the ships, with an F and a Y, and a crown over each letter, one on one side of the + and one on the other. When they landed they saw trees, very green, many streams and a large variety of fruits. The Admiral called the two captains and the others who landed, and Rodrigo de Escobedo, secretary of the expedition, and Rodrigo Sánchez de Segovia, and made them bear witness and testimony that he, in their presence, took possession, as in fact he did take possession, of the said island in the names of the King and Queen, His Sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, as is more fully recorded in the statutory instruments which were set down in writing. Then, many islanders gathered round. What follows are the Admiral’s own words from the journal of his first voyage and discovery of these Indies. In order to win their good will, he says, because I could see that they were a people who could more easily be won over and converted to our holy faith by kindness than by force, I gave some of them red hats and glass beads that they put round their necks, and many other things of little value, with which they were very pleased and became so friendly that it was a wonder to see. Afterwards they swam out to the ships’ boats where we were and brought parrots and balls of cotton thread and spears and many other things, and they bartered with us for other things which we gave them, like glass beads and hawks’ bells. In fact they took and gave everything they had with good will, but it seemed to me that they were a people who were very poor in everything.32 They go as naked as their mothers bore them, even the women, though I only saw one girl, and she was very young. All those I did see were young men, none of them more than thirty years old. They were well built, with handsome bodies and fine features. Their hair is thick, almost like a horse’s tail, but short; they wear it down over their eyebrows except for a few strands behind which they wear long and never cut. Some of them paint themselves black, though they are naturally the colour of Canary Islanders,33 neither black nor white; and some paint themselves white, some red and some whatever colour they can find; some paint their faces, some their whole bodies, some only the eyes and some only the nose. They do not carry arms and do not know of them because I showed them some swords and they grasped them by the blade and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron: their spears are just shafts without a metal tip, and some have a fish tooth at the end, and some have other things. They are all fairly tall, good looking and well proportioned. I saw some who had signs of wounds on their bodies and in sign language I asked them what they were, and they indicated that other people came from other islands nearby and tried to capture them, and they defended themselves.34 I believed then and still believe that they come here from the mainland to take them as slaves. They ought to make good slaves for they are of quick intelligence since I notice that they are quick to repeat what is said to them, and I believe that they could very easily become Christians, for it seemed to me that they had no religion of their own. God willing, when I come to leave I will bring six of them to Your Highnesses so that they may learn to speak. I have seen no animals of any kind on this island, except parrots. These are all the Admiral’s own words.


~ by Rafael Martel on October 12, 2013.

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